By Marcia Pilgeram
A friend from Montana recently called, asking about dining reservations for her upcoming ski trip to Sandpoint. Sadly, I shared with her, some of my favorite spots have gone dark. Besides the food, I miss the prospect of taking up space in a beloved corner or booth. Some people say a song takes them back. For me, a cozy table (or stool at the bar) in an old haunt takes me back to my first bite there — and a taste of nostalgia.
There is something incredibly soothing in the savoring of food memories. I can still remember the first time I held a menu in my hand and ordered my meal instead of (as the youngest) receiving “an extra plate.” Though almost 60 years ago, I can still recall that order: half a crispy, spring-fried chicken and a Shirley Temple, filled right to the brim of a tall Collins glass, topped with a couple of extra Maraschino cherries and placed on a fancy cocktail napkin.
Through countless life moves and purges, I still have that faded napkin and the sweetest memories of Mr. Holmes, the kind gentleman who treated me and my classmate, Jill (his daughter), to my birthday dinner at Jorgenson’s Holiday Inn in Helena, Mont.
Though I am no longer a regular, I’m grateful this restaurant still exists. I ate my first soft-shelled crab there. Until Mom could no longer leave her assisted-living quarters, they’d set up a nice table for two in the lounge, and my mom would nibble away at a chilled shrimp cocktail. For me, it was always a soft-shelled crab po-boy. I can’t count the number of banquets (my first Minnesota wild-rice stuffed Cornish game hen) and receptions I attended there, but different ones pop up in my memory bank every time I visit.
My children question my savant-like ability to remember almost every dining experience I’ve ever had when, daily, I can’t even find my car keys. But I have an uncanny recall for most of life’s fine morsels.
It could also be true that I’ve planned entire vacations around restaurant experiences. But, unfortunately, it’s not as easy to phone for a reservation nowadays. Instead, many restaurants direct us to use an app, like Open Table, and I am not a fan. I have favorite restaurants scattered throughout the country and favorite tables, so I prefer to speak to a human who (likely rolling their eyes throughout the call) can jot down some specific notes about my pending reservation, that likely includes a celebration requiring a surprise dessert. And yes, there are the times I regress, taking up time to talk about my last fabulous dining experience there, possibly in 2016?
Earlier this month, I called the Palm Court at the Davenport. Though the gentleman on the phone first directed me to Open Table, I was fortunate that he kindly took my Christmas Day reservation request for five, at a fireplace table in the lobby, including a highchair. Our family has had many holiday meals at the Davenport, and I was excited to share this ritual with Casey’s young family (still residing in temporary housing in Spokane). Sadly, due to the damn omicron virus spike, we had to alter plans, and I ended up at a fireplace table for one (the kids joined me later in the evening, in my room).
After four action-packed days in Moscow, I was more than content sitting alone before the fire, sipping Champagne in solitude and savoring a favorite meal of crab louie. The small corner table stirred up 20 years of memories — pre-wedding spa stays, pregnancy declarations, new job announcements, and casual get-aways with friends or family. Serendipitously, a familiar face took my order: favorite long-time waitperson, Mary. We gossiped about the hotel’s new ownership and fondly reminisced about past gatherings with friends and family.
The next day I was anxious to get home to start prepping a Boxing Day dinner for a family of dear friends. Like me, the matriarch of their clan was a former resident of Missoula, so I thought it would be fun to start with the first course from another bygone favorite, Curley’s Broiler. Curley’s was a Montana mainstay for more than 40 years — part bar and grill and, through another entrance, an upscale diner. Once guests were seated in the dining room, a delicious crock of chicken bisque soup was served and savored with cocktails. Sadly, Curley’s closed and was dismantled several years ago. Still, it only takes a spoonful of chicken bisque to take me there again.
I hope the coming year fills you up with lots of good food and great memories to savor. Happy New Year, dear friends and readers.
Chicken bisque soup recipe • serves 8
Worth the effort to start with a fresh chicken (you’ll have left over chicken for some tasty chicken salad.) When I have time, I cook the chicken the day before, so I can chill and skim the fat from the broth, otherwise just ladle off most of the fat.
• 1 3-pound chicken
• 1 cup minced celery
• 1 cup peeled, minced carrots
• 1 onion finely chopped
• 3 tablespoon salt
• 3 tablespoon butter
• 1/4 cup flour
• 1/2 cup chopped pimientos
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1 tbs cooking sherry
Place chicken in a large pot and cover with water — about 3 quarts. Season with a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is tender and separates easily from the bone. Remove chicken from stock and, when cool, chop finely and refrigerate until needed. Strain stock, chill and skim fat. Reheat stock and add celery, carrots and onion. Cook until vegetables are tender, about an hour.
To make the roux, melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, then slowly add to the simmering stock. Bring to a low boil and whisk until smooth.
Simmer until soup takes on a light glaze, about 15 minutes.
Add the jar of chopped pimientos, 1 cup shredded chicken and ground pepper. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Finish with the sherry. Serve in heated bowls.
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